Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #60 on the list: Duck Soup (1933).
Duck Soup tells the story of a wise-cracking man (Groucho Marx) who becomes the leader of a nation, despite his lack of political experience and his rude demeanor. Surprisingly, it lacks the modern-day thematic relevance that would seem apparent, but that’s no fault of its own—it’s meant to be sheer entertainment, rather than a thought-provoking political statement. What it also lacks, sadly, is effective jokes. Groucho is the star of the show, continuously firing off one-liners that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dad Joke Hall of Fame, but the real laughs and memorable scenes feature Chico and Harpo Marx as two spies of a rival nation. One inspired sequence has the goofy pair attempting an infiltration by dressing up as Groucho, ending with the impressive “mirror scene” which has Harpo matching Groucho’s moves as if there were a mirror between them. It’s telling that the best comedy in a film filled with zingers comes from the silent sequences. It could be the case, as with the Chaplin films on the list, that the two Marx brothers films that are included aren’t representative of their best work, but merely their most popular and enduring, but I can’t say I find Duck Soup as funny or impressive as any of the Chaplin films on the list.
Does It Belong on the List?
No. The humor may land better for those who appreciate old-fashioned caustic wit, but the filmmaking isn’t remarkable and it doesn’t have any thematic significance worth preserving.